In a well-earned triumph for children and their families, the 11th Circuit has struck down local laws in Florida that prohibit licensed therapists from providing basic talk-therapy to children who want to reduce or eliminate their same-sex attracted behaviors or feelings of confusion regarding their gender identity. The bans forced children into therapy that only guides them toward “gender transition”—including stopping their natural onset of puberty to instead pursue taking sterilizing cross-sex hormones or even life-altering surgery to remove healthy body parts. Any basic talk therapy to help children accept the bodies they were created with was banned.
In the past several years, there has been a concerted effort by LGBT-lobbyist organizations to ban therapy that allows families to receive treatment in line with their religious, ethical, or conscience beliefs. Currently, 20 states, Washington, D.C., and numerous cities and counties ban this kind of basic talk therapy, often claiming they are banning professional conduct and not speech.
These bans are devastating to families who want to seek out a licensed counselor for their child who is struggling with gender identity or sexual orientation confusion and want unbiased treatment that is tailored to their child’s needs and religious, moral, and conscience beliefs about sex and sexuality.
On Friday, the 11th Circuit ruled against the two Florida talk-therapy bans on the basis they violated the First Amendment in several ways. The three-judge panel (in a 2-1 decision), wrote that just because a therapist is providing medical treatment doesn’t automatically mean what he says can be labeled as “professional conduct” instead of “speech,” the latter having far more protections under the First Amendment.
Circuit Judge Britt Grant wrote, “the enterprise of labeling certain verbal or written communications ‘speech’ and others ‘conduct’ is unprincipled and susceptible to manipulation” (page 7 of published opinion). He went on to say the legislative power to regulate medical professions “does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed” just because “a legislative body thinks [those ideas] unsuitable for [children]” (p. 20).
Judge Grant also declared these bans unconstitutionally forced the government’s viewpoint onto families and their children that “sexual orientation is immutable, but gender is not,” (p. 12) by prohibiting therapists from saying anything opposing the government viewpoint. This is because these laws allow therapists to provide talk-therapy that supports permanent, radical gender transition or change but not basic therapy to facilitate sexual orientation transition or change.
Today, families in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia can breathe a little easier knowing the “bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment” that “the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable” (p. 27) has been upheld.
This federal circuit judgment can now be used to strike down state laws that ban talk therapy, which stifle and obliterate the fundamental right for a minor to obtain licensed professional help to reduce or eliminate unwanted same-sex attraction and gender identity confusion. It affirms that laws cannot impede the constitutional right to seek out the help they desire.
We applaud Liberty Counsel’s monumental efforts in bringing forward these cases and working on behalf of all families to ensure their rights are protected. We hope this is the first victory of many more to come.